State of Rights

In 20 years, Brazil opened 155 inquiries using the National Security Law

In the 18 months of the Jair Bolsonaro government 26% of these proceedings were officiated

Translated by: Ítalo Piva

Brasil de Fato | São Paulo |
Drawing by artist Renato Aroeira, that was censured by the Bolsonaro government and now faces criminal charges under the National Security Law - Renato Aroeira

On June 15th, Justice Minister André Mendonça, asked the Federal Police and the attorney general’s office, to investigate journalist Ricardo Noblat, based on the National Security Law (LSN), for his publishing of cartoon satire by cartoonist Renato Amoeira. The move, which was widely criticized by several groups, is becoming more commonplace in Brazil.

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Data obtained from the Federal Police, through the Law of Access to Information (LAI), show that over the last 18 months 41 inquiries based on the LSN have been opened, 26 in 2019 and 15 in the first semester of 2020. Since January of 2000 up to June 7th 2020, the Brazilian State put forth 155 proceedings to investigate possible violations of the law. In 2018, the legislation was called upon 19 times, a record at the time.

The task of dealing with the crimes described under the LSN law falls upon the Federal Police, but may also be exercised by the Federal Prosecutor’s office as well as the Supreme Court (STF) or the Justice Minister. Marcelo Uchôa, who has a doctorate’s degree in Constitutional Law and is a member of the Brazilian Association of Jurists for Democracy (ABJD), reminds us that this law came into effect in 1983, while country was still under military control, and in effect “bulletproofs public entities”.

“It’s absurd that we are normalizing this. From the viewpoint of the left, I see a lot of people celebrating the arrest of delinquents such as Sara Winter on LSN charges, this is a mistake. More than ever, we have to denounce this law. By the way, it’s a law that was almost dead and came back to life, a law that has the persecution of political opponents in it’s DNA”, affirmed the lawyer.

In the morning of June 15th, Federal Police executed an arrest warrant issued by Supreme Court justice Alexandre de Moraes, targeting Bolsonaro supporter Sara Fernanda Giromini, also known as Sara Winter, as a result of a criminal proceeding underway in the Supreme Court, looking into her alleged spearheading of anti-democracy protests. The magistrate used the LSN law as the basis for the arrest warrant.

In September 2019, former Bolsonaro Justice Minister Sérgio Moro, asked Federal Police to use LSN legislation to open an investigation into ex-president Luis Inácio Lula da Silva, after the politician stated that on a social media post that the current government would be run by militias.

“The right is trying to undo everything that we accomplished. We will have to hold our heads up and fight here in Brazil. It’s unbelievable that a country as big as Brazil is, has the displeasure of having a militia run government, directly responsible for the violence against the poor, responsible for Marielle’s death, responsible for Dilma’s impeachment, responsible of lying about my person”, declared Lula. The Federal Police did not accept the request, stating that there was nothing done that would be considered a crime under the LSN law.

Political gains

Legal experts often criticize the law for being too vague and open to interpretation, allowing it’s text to be used for “political intimidation”. “The law is very vague conceptually, so it allows for any form of expression against the president, to be considered defamation. For instance, it allows for a peaceful protest to become a crime”, explains Uchôa.

In its first article, the LSN law determines that those liable to prosecution are the ones who “damage” or “run the risk of damaging” the nation’s territorial integrity or national sovereignty, as well as the leaders of government. Criminal law expert Fernando Hideo, is of the opinion that the law should be abolished.

“It’s a law that creates the opportunity for this type of persecution, due to the open ended nature of the of what constitutes criminal doing in relation to the State. This legislation is quite naturally manipulated for political intimidation. It’s incompatible with the 1988 Constitution, it cannot go on in democratic State with rights”, explains the attorney.

A member of the Commission for Human Rights at the Brazilian Order of Attorneys, litigator Luzia Paula Cantal condemns the “trivialization of the excessive amounts of inquiries” in the time since the current president took office.

“Starting with the Bolsonaro administration, especially during 2020, we witnessed an intense use of this legal mechanism, in the quest to silence certain political groups or citizens contrary to the Bolsonaro government. The LSN law doesn’t establish clear parameters to guarantee freedom of expression and freedom to protest. The State cannot use LSN legislation to restrict freedom of expression or create censorship”, concluded the attorney.

Data from the Federal Police shows that the number of inquiries begin to rise in 2015, when 13 of them were opened with the LSN law serving as a basis. Hideo considers it possible that the rise is directly correlated to the hostile political environment and large amounts of street protests going on at the time.

“We noticed that since June of 2013, with the mass protests that were hijacked by the powers that be, alleging the fight against corruption, which led to the Lava-Jato operation, which led to the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff and Lula’s imprisonment, but the fact remains that this political crisis that’s been ongoing since 2013, spurred a lot of the protests in the first place, and the response to them has frequently been the LSN legislation”, she explains.


In the year 2000, during the Fernando Henrique Cardoso administration, nine farmers from the Landless Workers Movement (MST) in Paraná state, and another two from the state of Mato Grosso, were detained under the LSN law, for a series of camps they had set up in public buildings. The request had come from then Justice Minister, José Gregori.

However, it was in 2006 that the most emblematic inquiry took place, when Federal Prosecutors brought forth a motion against 116 militants from the Movement for the Liberation of the Landless (MLST), after the group occupied parts of Congress and got into altercations with security.

Edited by: Rodrigo Durão Coelho